Posted by: Dan | February 26, 2008

When Change Is Not Enough: Seven Steps to Revolution

A striking essay on AlterNet, putting the 2008 elections into a hopeful perspective:

In a nutshell – the seven things that lead to revolution, viewed through a historic perspective, as applied to the current domestic state of affairs.

1. Soaring, Then Crashing – in which a period of stability and prosperity is suddenly disrupted, the hard-won gains being squandered.
2. They Call It A Class War – in which the social contract is broken, and working classes find themselves ever more put-upon.
3. Deserted Intellectuals – in which educated people, having been alienated, make common cause with the working classes.
4. Incompetent Government – in which government mismanagement becomes awful to the point of grotesque malfeasance.
5. Gutless Wonders in the Ruling Class – in which the ruling class cannot effectively adapt and lead in the face of changing times.
6. Fiscal Irresponsibility – in which taxes are used irresponsibly.
7. Inept and Inconsistent Use of Force – in which capricious use of the country’s military/police forces leads to contempt for state power.

Also from the essay:

Way back in 1962, Caltech sociologist James C. Davies published an article in the American Sociological Review that summarized the conditions that determine how and when modern political revolutions occur. Intriguingly, Davies cited another scholar, Crane Brinton, who laid out seven “tentative uniformities” that he argued were the common precursors that set the stage for the Puritan, American, French, and Russian revolutions. As I read Davies’ argument, it struck me that the same seven stars Brinton named are now precisely lined up at midheaven over America in 2008. Taken together, it’s a convergence that creates the perfect social, economic, and political conditions for the biggest revolution since the shot heard ’round the world.

And even more interestingly: in every case, we got here as a direct result of either intended or unintended consequences of the conservatives’ war against liberal government, and their attempt to take over our democracy and replace it with a one-party plutocracy. It turns out that, historically, liberal nations make very poor grounds for revolution — but deeply conservative ones very reliably create the conditions that eventually make violent overthrow necessary. And our own Republicans, it turns out, have done a hell of a job.

Normally I’d have thought that this was a bit of an exaggerated argument – that we’re heading for a revolution of any sort. It seems more likely that we’re either maintaining the status quo or slipping slowly into worse conditions like those described in Brinton’s 7 points. That’s depressing. There’s nothing to suggest that Obama or anyone else will succeed in effecting a political revolution, and I hardly think that we’re at the stage of something equivalent to the French, American, or Russian revolutions, although the Great Depression could be a stock market crash away.

Don’t get me wrong – America would benefit greatly from such a ‘revolution’ – but too many Americans are too bone-headed, and our progressive politicians have insufficient backbone. So I’ll believe it when I see it.



  1. When I was campaigning in 2004 for Kerry (yeah, I know) I talked to one woman who was obviously a radical (she had anti-war and anti-bush buttons on her shirt) who wanted Bush to win because she believed that this would make “The Revolution” come faster.

    I wonder about revolutions, though, because after all of the violence and double-talk, people re-build the social institutions that existed before the revolution. USSR, which was anti-capitalist had a black market. It also had a strong underground Church. We see the same things in other countries which went communist and now are turning from it (except in China, where they only hold on to the authoritarianism of communism.)

    Revolutions in this century have led to more oppressive governments than what they replaced, for the most part. Rather than look for a sudden catastrophic revolution, I would rather see an organic revolution as the people get more and more power to resist authoritarian governing. I would rather have a religion that works like natural selection and gene flow than that which relies on a K-T event.

  2. substitute “religion” in last sentence with “revolution.”

  3. Hey, don’t worry about teh elections:
    Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

  4. TUIBGuy,
    Right on. I think that the key is that America is way too bone-headedly authoritarian to do anything, bar an event on the scale of the Great Depression (although a K-T event or the Rapture would nicely eliminate the wingnuts too). The first item Brinton’s list, that is.

    Eventually, that might happen. But I don’t see that happening by November. Thus, even though Obama might win the election and restore a measure of reason in Washington, he would still have to contend with the Senate, and little will get done.

  5. I think that is what many people forget. A president does not a revolution make in our system. I can hope that some better things will happen with the right president, but overall our society is so huge and momentum is so slow that we can only make fits and starts. One step up, two back, three up, two back.

  6. tuibguy,
    Couldn’t agree more.

    By the way, that Onion clip was awesome!

  7. Dan, don’t you think it’s human nature to drift toward totalitarianism? (I think we discussed this previously).

    Our closest ancestors, the Great Apes, live in a fairly totalitarian world, and it seems logical our world would align itself in a similar fashion.

    Unfortunately, humans, unlike the great apes, are acquisitive, and our desire to control/possess leads us to act in ways that are detrimental to the very survival of our species (Sociopathy).

    For example, a Silver Back would never cut down all the banana trees in order to grow coffee beans because coffee has a higher profit margin.

    On a side note, in my opinion, Obama is a classic example of a “Charming Manipulator.”

  8. Fairlane,
    I’m not so sure that categorizing Obama, or any of the other candidates, is the appropriate way to discuss politicians. Yes, there are various styles and personalities of any individual, politician or not, but every human is unique.

    That said, yes, I agree completely that the base instinct of humans is to be authoritarian, leading to total control by one or a group of authority figures. How sociopathy and self-destructiveness arose though is a challenging question. Did it arise with the advent of agriculture and civilization? I would guess that that is when authoritarian concepts arose…

  9. I must respectfully disagree with your assertion in regard to Obama. He is a human, and therefore characteristics that apply to humans apply to him.

    He is a politician. Rhetoric, not action, is what matters most in politics. Politicians achieve much of their power through manipulation, and/or charm.

    Such behaviors are quasi-sociopathic.

    As for, where does sociopathy come from?


    I know you’ve heard the descriptor, “Lizard Brain.”

    Such behavior is within all of us. All humans act, at some point in their lives, sociopathic/anti-social. We’ve all done something that was cold, manipulative, harmful to others in order to personally benefit (The difference is, a sociopath acts that way all the time, nor do they experience remorse).

    We are, after all, animals, and animals are amoral. In humans, we call this sociopathy.

    I imagine humans have dealt with this dilemma from the very beginning, and now we live in a society that not only encourages anti-social behavior, but praises it, which is why the diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder is on the rise.

  10. Fairlane,
    Can you, or any human, be easily categorized? To an extent they can, but no individual, politician or otherwise, is a carbon-copy clone of the category or type. That was my point there.

    I also would like to point out two things. (1) That amorality = sociopathy. Sure, amorality = sociopathy some of the time, maybe even most of the time. But all of the time? And (2) While rhetoric counts for more, it must connect to actions and reality, at least in appearance.

    Those are both subtle distinctions, and I think I’m being picky about the wording that you use rather than disagreeing outright. For instance, I agree strongly with your conclusion, that we now live in a society that encourages and praises anti-social behavior. Depressing, isn’t it?

  11. I wasn’t attempting to imply that “amorality” was a result of sociopathy in all cases. I’m sure you could make the argument such a stance is appropriate or even beneficial under certain circumstances.

    What I was attempting to do, without leaving a 3000 word screed on your blog, was to make the distinction between “immorality” and “amorality.”

    Sociopaths, typically, are not immoral, they are amoral. Morality has little to no causal effect on their behavior. It simply doesn’t exist. They do not view the world through a “right or wrong” lens. They are motivated by what they want, and if they think they can get it.

    I guess the larger point is, we all have this potential within us, and it’s one of the reasons people are (At least in my mind) so afraid of sociopaths like Bundy, Dahmer, etc. We want a concrete explanation for their behavior. A clear cut division between “Them,” and “Us,” but what we see is maybe their isn’t much of a distinction.

    Some sociopaths have abnormalities in parts of the brain that deal with “moral” judgment, but others don’t. Some were raised in extremely abusive environments, but others were not.

    After working with numerous sociopaths, I’m convinced that the line that separates “us” from “them” is very thin, and that we all innately posses this potential due, in part, to evolution. A tiger doesn’t take into consideration the antelope she’s about to consume might have a husband and child at home. It’s hungry, so, it eats.

    As I mentioned, all of us, at one time or another, have done something where we demonstrated a complete disregard for the well being of another person/persons.

    For example, you could argue that speeding on the interstate is sociopathic because not only are you endangering your own life, but the lives of those around you simply because you want to get home 10 seconds sooner.

    I’m very interested, like you, in who we are, what we are, and if possible, why we are.

  12. Fairlane,
    Fair enough. That is an interesting distinction… one that is important and I hadn’t given much thought to. Thanks for pointing it out!


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